skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Safe Chemicals
Defending the Clean Air Act

Max Baumhefner’s Blog

Million Electric Vehicle Bill Sent to Governor Brown

Max Baumhefner

Posted August 28, 2014 in Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

, , , , , , , , ,
Share | | |

California is poised to open a portal to America’s future, shoving Big Oil off the highways to make room for cleaner transportation alternatives that will improve the nation’s health and provide drivers with much-needed relief from pain at the pump. With today’s bipartisan concurrence vote by the Senate, the California Legislature gave final passage to the Charge Ahead California Initiative to put 1 million electric vehicles on the roads within 10 years and sent it to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.


Authored by Senator Kevin de León, the legislation is the first in the nation to try to place 1 million electric cars, trucks, and buses on California’s streets within a decade and ensure that communities that have suffered for too long from dangerous air pollution share in the benefits of a shift away from oil.

Electric cars are dismissed by skeptics as toys for the rich, but the reality is many models are surprisingly affordable, with post-incentive prices under $20,000. After accounting for the fact that driving on electricity is roughly the cost-equivalent of driving on dollar-a-gallon gasoline, that’s a pretty attractive alternative to cars that run on oil.

Many families would save a lot of money if they were to ditch their gasoline-powered cars, take advantage of attractive financing and leasing offers currently available for electric vehicles (EVs), and enjoy fuel-cost savings from Day 1. Among other things, the Charge Ahead legislation creates credit enhancement programs to help families that may not have the credit scores to qualify for such lease and finance deals, but could use money saved at the pump to make their car payments, and enjoy newer, safer, more reliable vehicles.

With four-in-ten Californians living dangerously close to pollution-choked highways, resulting in more premature deaths associated with traffic pollution than from traffic accidents, the transition to near-zero and zero emission vehicles is desperately needed.

Other Charge Ahead features

The bill also provides very generous incentives for lower- and moderate-income families to scrap their old, heavily polluting vehicles and get behind the wheel of new or used hybrid, plug-in electric car, or go “car-free” with vouchers for transit passes and car-sharing programs.

Mindful of the fact that going car-free is currently not a practical option in many areas of the state, the legislation creates pilot car-sharing programs in disadvantaged communities. Likewise, it aims to accelerate the installation of EV charging stations in apartment complexes and other multiple-unit residences in the state.

The measure also creates a long-term plan for purchase rebates that have played a central role in making California the single-largest EV market in the world, where nearly 100,000 electric cars are on the road today. Those rebates are currently worth up to $2,500, but will gradually be reduced as the market expands and vehicle costs come down.

The legislation directs the state’s Air Resources Board to limit eligibility for such rebates based on income in order to improve the cost-effectiveness of the program without undermining progress toward the million EV goal. As noted by the Los Angeles Times, the income-based provision has shifted the debate in the state by ensuring rebates are targeted at those whose vehicle purchase decisions are more likely be influenced by the incentive.

The Charge Ahead California Initiative (Senate Bill 1275) is sponsored by the Coalition for Clean Air, Communities for a Better Environment, Environment California, The Greenlining Institute, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Spreading access to a cleaner fuel that’s the cost equivalent of dollar-a-gallon gasoline


As shown in this figure, for the last decade, driving on electricity has been equivalent to dollar-a-gallon gasoline, and its forecasted to stay that way for the next decade. With the governor expected to enthusiastically sign the Charge Ahead California Initiative by the end of September, today’s vote concludes a seven-month-long legislative effort to adopt this groundbreaking initiative in California to get off the rollercoaster that is the world oil market.

The hope, of course, is that other states will follow suit and charge ahead towards cleaner fuel, cleaner air, and away from dirty fossil fuels. Drivers across America could get used to driving past the gas station, not worrying when oil prices spike following a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico or violence in the Middle East, and enjoying the convenience of re-fueling at home.

Share | | |


Michael BerndtsonAug 29 2014 08:12 AM

I'll play the wet blanket. Assume I'm that annoying engineer who enjoys kneecapping sales pitches. I've also been in sales.

California has 32 million registered vehicles. Of those 28 million are cars and trucks. Let's use the cars and trucks number. In 2023 or ten years, let's assume there will be 30 million cars and trucks.

1 million electric vehicles by 2023 is 3.3 percent of total.

Electricity usage:

California's net electricity production is 16,200 gwh. CA imports about 800 gwh. Let's assume a 1 percent growth by 2023 or about 18,000 ghw per year. Source: EIA

Tesla get's about 300 watt hours per mile. Let's assume 15,000 miles per year. That is equal to 4,950 gigawatt hours per year. Source: Tesla's website

1 million cars would need 28 percent of California's total electricity capacity. That's a lot.


EPA gave CA interim carbon intensity of 556 pounds CO2 per MWh. That's equal to 556,000 pounds per GWh or 278 tons CO2 per GWh.

1 million cars at 4,950 GWh per year would be 1,376,100 tons of CO2 per year (say 1,400,000)

1 million regular old cars: assume gasoline at 20 miles per gallon at 15,000 miles at 20 pounds CO2 per gallon = 7,500,000 tons of CO2 per year.

Percent reduction of 1 million EVs to 1 million Gas = 1 - 1,400,000/7,500,000 = 81.3 percent. - Very good to excellent

Percent reduction of 1 million EVs over entire CA fleet in 2023 (assume 29 million non EVs at the efficiency and miles driven above)

Non EVs fleet emissions: 29 million: 217,500,000 tons CO2

EVs fleet emissions: 1 million: 1,400,000 tons CO2

Total 218,900,000 tons CO2

1 million EVs overall reduction: 1 - (218,900,000 - 1,400,000)/218,900,000 = 0.64 percent. - meh to what?

While it's a start, it's probably better to simply legislate slower driving habits and maintaining proper tire pressure. Put state money into public transportation to get cars off the road. Everybody should walk in LA.

This will make EV titans happy. Mother nature, not so much. And probably continue to make the oil industry happy. Hell, I'm sure Exxon will be gobbling up graphite, manganese and lithium mines left and right in ten years. So we'll be back to the same old natural resources grab.

William SAug 29 2014 10:34 AM

EPA CO2 emission estimates (as mentioned by Michael Berndtson) are based on ALL available energy resources, primarily fossil fuels, which was used to convert MWh into lbs. of carbon. By his own calculations, 1,000,000 EVs fleet still reduced carbon emissions 0.64 percent.

The use of electric generated from renewable-only resources, post-construction, of course, would eventually improve carbon reduction. Decrease the Non EV fleet AS quickly as EVs replace them, and we reduce carbon further. Decrease the Non EV fleet MORE quickly than EVs replace them, and that number goes down even more.

Continuing on, we can drive less. Travel less. Walk more. Transport less weight in prrsonal vehicles. Contemplate using/building/refining city mass transit options (post-construction, again, as per we are back using fossil fuels to improve infrastructure). Have less children or none at all. Eat less. Way less. Eat local. Eat "real" food. Recycle. Educate. The list goes on.

It's the Tragedy of the Commons all over. The commonality here is too many people taking and using and depleting faster than we can maintain. That's all there is to it. That's the problem to solve: the too many people problem. Without genocide as the solution, of course.

The smart will eventually stop breeding. But the dumb and horny just keep going.

JaneAug 29 2014 10:49 AM

Most people in countries and in families with high energy consumption *have* stopped breeding past the replacement rate, it's people in developing countries that have a high fertility rate, and they use 10x less energy, often even less than that, than those who no longer breed.

Max BaumhefnerAug 29 2014 10:57 AM

Good exercise, and I'd agree we also need to invest in transit and other solutions to reduce the need to drive (NRDC was the original sponsor of SB375, which aims to do just that), but multiple independent analyses have concluded that electrifying cars, trucks, and buses is essential if we're going to meet our long-term climate goals. See the chart and other references in this blog:

Note: CA's electricity consumption ten years out is projected to be about 300,000 GWh (not 18,000) See

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have also concluded there's sufficient spare capacity in our nation's electrical grid that we could electrify 84 percent of our cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs without building a single new power plant.

Gerald QuindryAug 29 2014 11:30 AM

My complements. Many people don't do the math, and you have.
I might add, where are all the rare earth metals going to come from for all those cars and batteries. Keep in mind that those same elements are pretty essential in Photovoltaic cells and wind turbines.

And, if you don't dramatically extend the range of the vehicles, or decrease the recharge time, an EV is not a replacement for many vehicles on the road. Nobody has invented the shipstone described in Robert Heinlein's science fiction. (MIT is making progress!)

Michael BerndtsonAug 29 2014 02:00 PM

William S,

I can't vouch for the accuracy, given that this was a morning musing. I'm about 85 percent accurate on blog comments. So a solid B. I used the proposed US EPA power plant carbon emissions intensity factor specific to California. This is pounds carbon dioxide per MWh. That number would go into effect around 2023, the year the CA 1 million EVs. It's still in debate.

CA elec generations mix is Natural Gas (50%), Renewable (25%), Nuke (10%), Hydro (12%) and other. Those are eyeball numbers off a graph.

Gerald QuindryAug 30 2014 08:36 AM

Is the last link in your response above, after "Researchers at ... without building a single new power plant." the link you intended to provide? It doesn't seem to be relevant. I don't see how it supports your assertion, and, frankly, I am skeptical of that assertion, especially if you grow the number of electric vehicles as you describe.

Max BaumhefnerAug 30 2014 01:10 PM

Sorry, wrong link. Correct link in the comment above and immediately below. Here's the relevant conclusion: "For the United States as a whole, 84% of U.S. cars, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) could be supported by the existing infrastructure, although the local percentages vary by region."

Adda BoyAug 30 2014 01:50 PM

I was in China within the last year and saw some of the electric vehicle build out there. It was pretty impressive. They are making electric cars a car share service based on the bike share. The car share vending machines by Kandi Technologies can be seen in this video.

Gerald QuindryAug 30 2014 09:27 PM

Thank you, Max, for the corrected link.
From that document, it's easy to see why my BS meter lit up while reading your original post. The additional electrical demand that is placed on the existing infrastructure is fulfilled by natural gas and coal plants, depending upon what region of the country you live in. I'm sure those at NRDC that oppose mountain top removal coal mines will be thrilled. As will those opposed to hydraulic fracturing. (Count me opposed to the first, but not the second.)

In addition, all the power plants, no matter their fuel source, are run nearly continuously at maximum capacity, and with reduced reserve capacity. That would mean a lot more unexpected power failures when something goes wrong somewhere, as it inevitably does.

So basically this is an exercise that has no approximation of reality. Have you heard the term, "Over-egging the pudding?"

Antonio ReisAug 30 2014 10:10 PM

[[With four-in-ten Californians living dangerously close to pollution-choked highways, resulting in more premature deaths associated with traffic pollution than from traffic accidents, the transition to near-zero and zero emission vehicles is desperately needed.]]
It is a proven fact that the exhaust of a modern car (7 years and newer) is cleaner than the intake in the populated basins you are referring to.

It would be helpful if we stay within the facts and highlight the true benefits of electrification of the transportation systems.

Michael BerndtsonAug 31 2014 10:37 AM

My bad, I used CA's May 2014 generation from EIA. The 300,000 GWh per year is correct. I should read report titles more.

Here's a better summary of California:


1 million electric cars would use about 1 to 2 percent of the total 300,000 gwh of electricity: good to great. So it does look like only a few natural gas fired plants and some more PV panels is all that's necessary.

California imports 25 percent of its electricity. So hopefully more PV panels will get installed. The above link shows generation sources for CA generated and electricity imports from other states.

1 million cars would still only reduce emissions by a fraction. The 0.64 percent still looks good. That's not very promising, still. Total CA generation has nothing to do with this calculation.

1 million EVs will stimulate Tesla and other EV manufactures, which is apparently the goal here. Given that they're courting States for the most goodies.

GuthrumSep 1 2014 09:52 AM

I have yet to find an ev much under $30,000. I think federal tax credits for this sort of thing expired in 2013. Many people live out in the country and rural areas where there is no "mass transit". Riding a bike or walking to work or shopping is not an option. And I am not about to relocate and live in some city - urban area.
Yes, new technology is needed. Hydrogen and magnet motors are promising but still years away. We need ev cars that can fully charge in 15 minutes with a range of 400-500 miles, under $25,000. Get to that point and car companies will not be able to keep up with demand. And then you would have the problem of electrical demand charging up all those cars. An ev is fine for short trip, around town sort of things. But who is going to pay $30,000 + for an electric Focus ?
But just passing poorly thought out laws won't help anything. Trying to force people to change their entire life style won't get it, neither will signing treaties with the UN.

Michael GSep 2 2014 08:19 AM

For many (like me), adding an EV changes the payback time for roof-top solar sufficiently to make it worthwhile. And once you've got rooftop solar, might as well switch out the gas hot water heater, and the gas heating system for electric, add battery back-up and "poof!" one more house off the grid. My web link has a graph showing battery backed-up solar becomes cost effective in CA in 2031, in NY in 2027, and in Hawaii NOW!

Rare earth metals are misnamed. Most aren't that rare or expensive, except maybe compared to iron. Silicon (as in sand) is the main component in PV.

Tesla is sexy, but the ho-hum Chevy Volt is the one that eliminates 80% of passenger gas use which is in 40 mile daily use. (It switches to gas after that.) GM chose that 40-mile EV range for that reason. Volt owners talk about going months without a fill up. A Volt goes for $34K but there is still a $7,500 Fed + $2,000 CA tax break so $24K after all is done. And you get to use the car-pool lane! Eliminating 80% of CO2 equivalent emissions will be sufficient to stop global warming.

GM loses money on each Volt they sell, so economies of scale are necessary to make EV competitive. Anything advancing that is a plus.

P SchagerSep 4 2014 05:03 AM

The sanity check for the percent CO2 savings calculation in the first comment above is that if you are replacing 3% of the cars with ones that get rid of the bulk of their emissions, then you get rid of the bulk of 3% of the emissions. 0.64% doesn't pass that, so the next step is to scrutinize the calculation. You get:
7.5 short tons emitted per conventional car
1.4 tons per EV
6.1 tons saved per EV
and for 1 m cars, in millions of short tons:
218.9 Original CA fleet pollution
1-((218.9-6.1)/218.9) = 2.8%.
I give Mr. Berndtson an A for effort anyway because the perspectives are useful and reasonable, and because it would seem a reasonable assumption that somebody here would double-check the math *sigh*.

Actually, I think he is onto something. Notice that he missed (2.8%/.64%), in geometric terms a factor of 4.4 of the magnitude of the savings. I think there's another factor of 4.4 yet. He just divided instead of multiplied ;). OK, it's a ballpark estimate but about what I would guess.

Because in the years of the projection, each EV that is sold will contribute to lighting a competitive fire under the feet of the conventional ICE automakers and friends for the remaining 29 million cars and taking away their excuses not to reform and reduce their disadvantages relative to the EV. Under penalty of loss of business and accelerated loss of power. Political excuses melt too. So for each of the other 29 cars say there is a 30% chance they'll be pushed into selling a (next generation) Prius-class instead of a business-as-usual car, for a fuel savings of around half. The equivalent overall, with some cars influenced more or less than this. This reduces the fleet depletion/pollution total to (29 * .3 = 8.7) cars reduced 50%, equivalent to removing 4.35 cars from the road. So, the EV rather than contributing an 83% reduction in CO2 emissions, would yield 83+4350 = 4400% reduction versus getting a conventional car.

Effects on local air pollution will mirror those for CO2. Anyway, pollution is just one on a long list of reasons we suffer from not doing this.

Take the numbers as notional but I think this example is a good way of thinking of the implications of EV policy at this stage. Then I think you'll understand why so many oil loyalists behave in response to EV promotion policies in a way that, because of the comment policy, I can't say.

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Max Baumhefner’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In